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Hotel suites do double duty for executives

Business travellers book private rooms, avoid traditional spaces to woo customers

Wednesday, September 25, 2002
MELINDA LIGOS
New York Times Service

A growing number of travelling executives are doing more than snoozing or watching pay-per-view movies in their hotel rooms these days. With companies tightening travel budgets, these top-level managers are holding business meetings or entertaining clients in their hotel suites instead of renting traditional spaces, hôteliers and corporate-meetings specialists say.

"People don't want to spend the money to rent an extra room if they don't have to," says Nan Andrews Amish, a trade show consultant in El Granada, Calif. In the technology industry, more companies are skipping the expense of a trade show booth at a convention and instead are booking a suite in a nearby hotel and inviting clients for private demonstrations or dinners.

In addition, hôteliers say, some business travellers hunger for meeting places that seem more like home. "People are less excited about travelling these days, and they're looking for the creature comforts that a suite is likely to offer," says Patrick Anderson, director of sales for the Waldorf Towers in Manhattan, which has 101 suites. He says that this year he has seen an increase of about 20 per cent in requests from guests to hold business functions in their rooms.

These spaces are more private, and usually cheaper than renting a separate meeting room, Ms. Amish says. At last November's Comdex show in Las Vegas, a majority of her clients invited key customers to their hotel suites rather than woo them on the trade-show floor. Some gave one-on-one product demonstrations in these spaces. Others turned their suites into a tropical oasis or served beer and chili to customers.

"It's a cost-effective way to make prospects feel special," says Ms. Amish, who estimates that many of her clients spend $300 (U.S.) a night for a typical hotel suite, against $1,000 or more for space at a trade show.

Such suites are typically more colourful than hotel conference rooms. Kathleen Myers, president of Advanced Practical Thinking Training, a corporate-training company in Des Moines, recently held a reception for co-workers in a luxury suite that was originally designed for Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy. The suite featured a grand piano and three rooms with light dimmers and mirrors on the ceiling. "It definitely added some atmosphere to the event," says Ms. Myers, who this year has stepped up her use of suites for meetings as a cost-cutting measure.

The homey appeal of some suites has special advantages for some executives. For Gary Johnston, a global brand manager with Stainmaster carpet in Kennesaw, Ga., such a suite afforded the perfect opportunity to showcase his products to a group of consumer magazine editors in New York. Mr. Johnston and his team rented a suite at the Inter-Continental Central Park South and placed swatches of the company's new area rugs and carpeting throughout the rooms.

Then they demonstrated the stain resistance of their carpets by traipsing from room to room and pouring wine and punch on the swatches.

"Being in a minihome environment setting made the demonstrations much more realistic," he reflects. "The meetings went over very well."

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